PRIMAKOV, SOLANA, SHUN PRESS AFTER MEETING.
Russian Foreign Minister
Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana avoided all contact
with the media following five hours of closed-door talks at an official
residence in suburban Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21
January. Solana immediately returned to Brussels, and both NATO and the Russian
Foreign Ministry issued similarly terse statements saying the "useful" session
had established a "timetable" for further talks but admitting that "there are
different approaches on a range of issues." It appears that Moscow continues to
insist that any Russia-NATO agreement create a legally binding joint
consultation mechanism giving Russia a voice in important alliance decisions, a
move NATO officials have balked at. -- Scott Parrish
REACTION TO PRIMAKOV-SOLANA TALKS.
Duma Defense Committee Deputy
Chairman Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko), said that Russia should not settle for any
security guarantees from NATO short of joining the alliance itself, according
to a 20 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. Arbatov said Moscow
"cannot be satisfied with signing another declaration or charter," adding that
since Russia cannot halt NATO enlargement, it should seek to transform NATO
into a multilateral security system. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor
Ilyukhin, however, denounced the talks with Solana. The communist deputy argued
that President Boris Yeltsin's foreign policy "had accustomed the West to
constant concessions on our part," and charged that Solana had come to
"persuade" or "maybe blackmail" Russia into accepting NATO expansion. -- Scott
YELTSIN REJECTS LUZHKOV'S STANCE ON SEVASTOPOL.
In the wake of Moscow
Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's recent visit to Sevastopol, which has provoked harsh
criticism from Kyiv (see related articles in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan
section), Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 20 January
said that Luzhkov's statements on the status of Sevastopol "should not be
confused with the position of the president of the country and Russia in
general with regard to Ukraine," ORT reported. Yastrzhembskii said Ukraine's
territorial integrity had been recognized by the international community and
guaranteed by Russia, a reference to the 1994 trilateral
Russian-American-Ukrainian agreement under which Kyiv agreed to denuclearize
and Moscow agreed to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. The Foreign
Ministry also declared that Luzhkov's statments "do not reflect official policy
and should be treated accordingly." -- Scott Parrish
YELTSIN LEAVES HOSPITAL.
President Yeltsin checked out of the Central
Clinical Hospital on 20 January after 12 days and will continue recuperating at
his suburban Moscow residence Gorkii-9, NTV reported. He was admitted on 8
January with pneumonia. This week the president is planning one or two meetings
and a three- to four-hour daily work schedule, according to spokesman Sergei
Yastrzhembskii. Nevertheless, he is still set to attend the CIS summit in
Moscow at the end of January, meet with French President Jacques Chirac on 2
February, and visit The Hague on 3-4 February, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert
AGRARIAN LEADER CALLS FOR NEW PROPERTY CONCEPT.
Mikhail Lapshin has
called on the Popular-Patriotic Union to re-evaluate its position on property
rights in advance of the next presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported on 21
January. He blamed Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's loss in the 1996
election on his lack of support for private property and warned that the
opposition must recognize this "obvious reality" in order to increase its
electorate. Lapshin said that the Agrarian Party will add the right for
peasants to own land to its program at its 22-23 March congress, bringing the
party "closer to the center," Segodnya reported 20 January. -- Robert
CHECHEN CANDIDATES FEUD ...
Former Chechen field commander Shamil
Basaev told a public meeting in Grozny on 20 January that his fellow candidates
Aslan Maskhadov and acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev are "crooks," and
that he will not join their government if they win, Reuters reported. On 19
January, NTV broadcast a tape of a meeting of the Chechen State Defense Council
on 16 January, at which state security head Abu Movsaev accused Avakho Arsanov,
Maskhadov's vice-presidential running mate, of having been involved in the
kidnappng of three Slovaks from Ingushetiya last October. He said Arsanov, the
former northern front commander, is still holding 17 captives for ransom.
ITAR-TASS quoted Yandarbiev on 20 January as saying that Arsanov will be
prosecuted. -- Peter Rutland
... WHILE ELECTION PREPARATIONS CONTINUE.
Chechen Electoral Commission
head Mumadi Saidaev denied that not allowing voting outside the republic will
make the 27 January election undemocratic, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. He
noted that estimates of the number of refugees range from 100,000 to 350,000,
and claimed many have already returned home. However, Russian human rights
activist Sergei Kovalev said on 19 January that not allowing refugees to vote
where they live is a "serious mistake," Reuters reported. Although Russian
authorities will not be involved in running the election, NTV reported on 19
January that Russia is cooperating by setting up the Severnyi Airport and
providing helicopter transport for international observers. -- Peter Rutland
ORT JOURNALISTS MISSING IN CHECHNYA.
Chechen law enforcement agencies
have been unable to locate two journalists working in Chechnya for Russian
Public TV (ORT), ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. Roman Perevezentsev and
Vladislav Tibelius left Grozny on 19 January for the capital of Ingushetiya,
Nazran, where they planned to transmit reports to Moscow. However, they never
turned up at the television station or at their hotel in Nazran. Chechen
Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev said all journalists working in Chechnya are
offered protection, but that the ORT correspondents left Grozny unaccompanied
by any guards. -- Laura Belin
LEBED IN D.C.
Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed met with
senators William Roth and Robert Smith in Washington, RFE/RL reported on 20
January. Roth, who is also president of the North Atlantic Assembly which
groups together legislators from all 16 NATO countries, characterized Lebed's
position on NATO expansion as somewhat flexible. He said Lebed suggested that
Russia has "voluntarily isolated itself" with its current stance on NATO
expansion. On the same day, Lebed attended U.S. President Bill Clinton's
inauguration ceremony in a public viewing area. Major Russian television
networks either ignored or gave unfavorable coverage to the visit. Lebed told
NTV that he was "modestly" representing Russia at the inauguration, since the
president, prime minister, and chief of staff were not present. -- Laura
POLL: MOST RUSSIANS OPPOSE NATO EXPANSION.
A VCIOM poll conducted from
13-17 January found that 50% of Russians oppose the admission of former Soviet
republics into NATO and 41% say former Warsaw Pact members should not join the
alliance, according to a 20 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The
poll of 1,600 respondents across Russia found that only 13% support NATO
membership for former Soviet republics and only 15% support the aims of former
Warsaw Pact countries to join the alliance. However, 17% and 22% of respondents
were indifferent to the issue of NATO membership for former Soviet republics or
Warsaw Pact members, respectively, while 20% and 22% were undecided. Asked how
Russia should defend its interests, 26% said it should not join any alliances,
22% favored cooperation with NATO, 17% said Russia should form its own alliance
with other CIS states, and 8% said Russia should join NATO. -- Scott Parrish
NIKITIN'S WIFE LET INTO RUSSIA WITHOUT PROBLEMS.
Tatyana Chernova, the
wife of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, was allowed back into Russia
without problems on 20 January despite fears that she might encounter
difficulties, AFP reported. When Chernova left Russia last week for a brief
visit to Norway, customs officials stamped her passport "exit for permanent
residence abroad" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). Chernova has
campaigned actively on behalf of her husband, who is facing charges of
espionage for his part in a report by the Norwegian-based environmental group
Bellona on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. -- Penny Morvant
MOSCOW HOUSING FOR DEPUTIES.
Izvestiya on 21 January reported on
the latest attempt by Russia's parliamentarians to safeguard their housing
benefits. Last week the Duma passed in all three readings amendments to the law
on the Status of a Deputy of the Federal Assembly entitling deputies from
outside Moscow to the equivalent of $60,000 to buy an apartment in the capital.
The figure of $60,000 (330 million rubles) is derived from an estimate of the
cost of housing a deputy for four years in a top-class hotel. There is
insufficient official housing in part because not all former deputies have
relinquished their apartments. According to Izvestiya, 69 deputies have
privatized their flats and another 14 have received compensation payments. --
FAR EASTERN FACTORY WORKERS PAID IN BRAS.
Workers at a factory producing
women's underwear in Vladivostok have been receiving bras in lieu of their
wages, Izvestiya reported on 21 January. Short on cash, the factory has
handed out seven to nine bras a month to both male and female employees. Owing
to the problem of interenterprise debt and delays in the payment of state
subsidies, workers at many enterprises receive wages in kind. -- Penny
MORE DATA ON LIVING STANDARDS IN 1996.
Real monthly wages grew 5% last
year although real inm&me levels remë[cedilla]neÅEstable,
ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January, citing Goskomstat data. The average monthly
wage in November was 835,000 rubles plus an average of 29,800 rubles in social
payments. (These figures do not take into account delays in the payment of
wages and benefits.) Goskomstat estimated the average December pension at
320,700 rubles, up from 246,700 at the beginning of 1996. The average
subsistence minimum in December was 379,000 rubles a month; 22% of the
population were living below the poverty line. -- Penny Morvant
ECONOMIC SLUMP CONTINUES.
Russia's GDP and industrial production fell by
6% and 5%, respectively, in 1996 over the previous year, ITAR-TASS reported on
20 January, citing the State Statistical Committee. The largest decline was
recorded in light industry (28%), construction materials (25%), and the
chemical and petrochemical industry (11%). Oil production dropped 2% to 293
million metric tons and coal output fell 4% to 243 million tons, while the
production of natural gas rose 1% to 575 billion cubic meters. The volume of
investment totaled 370 trillion rubles, 18% down on 1995. Housing construction
shrank 10% to 37 million square meters. -- Natalia Gurushina
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA.
In his weekly interview on
Georgian state radio, Eduard Shevardnadze described the development of a "close
strategic alliance" between Georgia and Russia as "promising," ITAR-TASS
reported on 20 January. Shevardnadze thanked the Russian government for
allowing Georgia to postpone repayment of its $180 million debt to Russia until
2000. Shevardnadze said Russia "can and should play the key role" in resolving
the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Meanwhile, Georgian Parliament Speaker
Zurab Zhvania claimed that any special relationship with Russia will be "empty
rhetoric" as long as the Abkhaz conflict is not settled. -- Emil Danielyan
GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER IN SOUTH OSSETIA.
Zurab Zhvania met behind
closed doors with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia
on the first visit by a top Georgian official to the breakaway region's
capital, Tskhinvali, in five years, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The visit
comes after President Eduard Shevardnadze's prediction of an imminent
breakthrough in the Georgian-South Ossetian talks and South Ossetian Parliament
Speaker Konstantin Dzugaev's subsequent visit to Tbilisi (see OMRI Daily
Digest, 16 January 1997). -- Emil Danielyan
AZERBAIJAN COMMEMORATES "BLACK JANUARY."
commemorated "Black January," when more than 130 people were killed and some
700 wounded in 1990, as thousands of Soviet interior and security forces moved
into Baku to defend Soviet power from rising nationalist sentiment, Western and
Russian media reported the same day. The intervention helped Azerbaijan Popular
Front leader Abulfaz Elchibey come to power. The same day, Turan reported that
69 volumes of documentation relating to the January events were illegally
seized and removed from Azerbaijan three years ago; the efforts of Azerbaijani
law-enforcement organs to resecure them has won no favor with the responsible
military court in Russia, according to the agency. -- Lowell Bezanis and Emil
STRIKE IN SOUTHERN KAZAKSTAN, NO HEAT IN NORTH.
Workers at the Achisay
Polymetal plant in Southern Kazakhstan have gone on strike to demand the
payment of their back wages, RFE/RL reported on 21 January. According to
sources in the Kazakstani Federation of Trade Unions, the strikers were joined
by local transport system workers on 20 January. In other news, the city of
Kokshetau in North Kazakstan has been unable to provide heat to some 15,000
apartments for two weeks. Temperatures in the city have dropped to -30 C. --
Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov on 18 January
issued deeds to 80 farmers permitting them to use their lands in perpetuity,
ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Turkmenistan's new landowners are prohibited
from transferring or reselling their property. The ceremony was held to mark
the launch of Turkmenistan's efforts to reform its crisis-riden agricultural
sector by moving toward private land ownership. In other news, a total of 123
drug smugglers were executed in Turkmenistan in 1996, according to a 13 January
Vechernii Bishkek report monitored by the BBC. -- Lowell Bezanis
UKRAINE PROTESTS MOSCOW MAYOR'S CLAIM ON SEVASTOPOL.
Ministry delivered a note to the Russian Embassy on 20 January stressing that
statements by Russian officials of the kind made by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov
in Sevastopol on 17 January could damage Ukrainian-Russian relations, Ukrainian
and international agencies reported. The ministry also circulated a statement
calling Luzhkov's statements "unfriendly" and his claim that Sevastopol "is and
will stay a Russian city" a threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity. While
the Russian government has refuted any Russian territorial claims on
Sevastopol, differences between Ukraine and Russia over how much of the port
city will be leased to Russia and for how long remain a stumbling block in the
negotiations on the division of the Black Sea Fleet. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev
CRIMEAN COMMUNISTS CELEBRATE SIX YEARS OF AUTONOMY.
Members of the
Crimean Communist Party honored the anniversary of the 1991 referendum that
restored Crimea's autonomy with a rally in Sevastopol attended by some 1,000
people, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The communists also demanded early
elections to the Crimean parliament, threatening protests and strikes if the
parliament stays on. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Economics Minister Leonid
Minin warned that the Crimean economy is in a catastrophic state, Ukrainian
radio reported on 18 January. Minin said capital investments in the Crimea had
halved and hundreds of thousands of Crimeans are affected by hidden
unemployment. Crimean Parliamentary Speaker Vasyl Kyselyov said the continued
decline in production raised the specter of a collapse of the peninsula's
industry and agriculture. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev
COMPETING CLAIMS ABOUT BELARUSIAN ECONOMY.
First Deputy Prime Minister
Piotr Prakapovich announced on 20 January that the Belarusian economy grew by
2.6% in 1996, the first increase since the USSR collapsed in 1991, Western
agencies reported. The opposition Belarusian Popular Front issued a report the
same day claiming the economy actually shrank by 4%-5% and that about 1.5
million people, around a third of the work force, are unemployed. Prakapovich
acknowledged that the country's foreign trade deficit in 1996 was $1.4 billion
and that industrial goods worth $633 million are languishing in warehouses. --
LATVIAN PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS.
Andris Skele sent a letter of
resignation to President Guntis Ulmanis on 20 January because "the president
and the political elite accused me of pressing amoral decisions upon them,"
Western agencies reported. That was a clear reference to the controversial
appointment of businessman Vasilijs Melniks as finance minister (see OMRI
Daily Digest, 16 January 1997). Skele expressed regret about leaving a job
he had started successfully in December 1995 but had since found too difficult.
The president cannot reject Skele's resignation, which also means the
dissolution of the government, but he has the right to renominate him. --
ESTONIAN PRIME MINISTER IN SINGAPORE.
Tiit Vahi, accompanied by Social
Affairs Minister Tiiu Aro and a large delegation of businessmen and government
officials, arrived in Singapore on 18 January for a four-day working visit.
Vahi told a business seminar organized by the Export Institute of Singapore on
19 January that Estonia could serve as an ideal gateway to the European Union,
ETA reported. Vahi noted with satisfaction that Singapore was his country's
sixth-largest source of foreign investment and said that cooperation should be
expanded. Vahi met with Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 20 January,
BNS reported. -- Saulius Girnius
LITHUANIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL SUBMITS RESIGNATION.
submitted his resignation to President Algirdas Brazauskas on 20 January, Radio
Lithuania reported. He said that his resignation was prompted by the difficult
situation with crime in Lithuania and in particular the events in Panevezys on
Christmas Eve, when a businessman shot four racketeers and wounded four others
who were trying to extort money from him. Nikitinas, however, will remain in
office until the president submits his resignation to parliament's regular
spring session, which begins on 10 March. The ruling coalition has been
advocating that the parliament and not the president should appoint the
prosecutor-general. -- Saulius Girnius
MAIN POLISH RIGHT-WING GROUPS TO COOPERATE IN ELECTIONS.
leader of the Movement for Poland's Reconstruction (ROP), has offered to put up
joint lists of Senate candidates with Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) in this
fall's parliamentary elections, Polish media reported on 20 January. The ROP
had previously refused to cooperate with the AWS. Solidarity trade union
spokesman Piotr Zak said Olszewski's offer would probably be accepted.
According to an anonymous AWS leader cited by Rzeczpospolita, the ROP
wants to cooperate because it does not have enough well-known politicians to
field in both the Sejm and Senate elections. Olszewski also warned the AWS -- a
center-right coalition led by the Solidarity trade union -- not to admit the
recently formed Conservative-People's Party, whose leaders have close links to
former President Lech Walesa and are critical of the so-called citizens' draft
constitution, supported by the ROP and the AWS. -- Beata Pasek
DOCUMENTS SHOW CZECH SECRET SERVICE TRIED TO DISCREDIT POLITICIANS.
Documents submitted by opposition Social Democratic Party leader Milos Zeman to
the parliamentary committee overseeing the Czech Intelligence Service (BIS) on
20 January show that the BIS attempted to discredit the Social Democrats and
other political parties, Czech media reported. Members of the parliamentary
committee told journalists that the documents are serious. "If authentic, the
documents prove allegations made by Civic Democratic Alliance [ODA] leader Jan
Kalvoda in 1994," ODA deputy Ivan Masek told CTK. Kalvoda claimed in 1994 that
his party was shadowed by the BIS. Similar charges by Christian Democratic
Union Chairman Josef Lux in November 1996 led to the resignation of BIS head
Stanislav Devaty. President Vaclav Havel, who has studied the documents, said
the BIS might have committed illegal acts but rejected Zeman's charges that the
country is turning into a police state. -- Jiri Pehe
CZECH DEFENSE MINISTER ADMITS CRISIS IN THE ARMY.
Unless immediate steps
are taken, the army will be unable to defend the country within four years,
Miloslav Vyborny said on 20 January. Vyborny said the army does not get enough
money and that the situation is particularly critical in the air force, where
50% of equipment is not operational. Vyborny also called for radical reforms,
saying the army could be smaller but needs to be "combat-ready and modern." --
SLOVAK ROMA FORMING MILITIA.
In a letter sent to Prime Minister Vladimir
Meciar, a spokesman for Slovak Roma, Marek Balaz, announced that Roma are
setting up a militia because the state is unable to protect them, international
media reported on 20 January. The decision was prompted by the murder of a Rom
in Prievidza, central Slovakia, before Christmas. Another Rom was killed
earlier in the year, a victim of one of the 19 racial attacks registered in
1996. "Our militia will guard our houses and our people," Balaz wrote. He
argued that the authorities often turn a blind eye to violence against Roma;
for example, in the past five years in Prievidza, he said, skinheads attacked
Roma on 54 occasions but charges were brought only once. -- Jiri Pehe
SLOVAK PETITION DRIVE SUCCEEDING.
The opposition has collected almost
one-third of the signatures needed to force a referendum on instituting direct
presidential elections, a Slovak opposition leader told Reuters on 20 January.
The referendum is aimed at preventing Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar from
assuming presidential powers before the election of a new president in March
1998, some six moÅ,hs before the next general elections are expected.
"According to the latest reports, we have already collected more than 100,000
signatures since we started two weeks ago," Ivan Simko, vice chairman of the
Christian Democratic Movement, who heads the petition committee, told Reuters.
Simko said the necessary number of signatures (350,000) could be collected
within two months. The government argues that a referendum on changing the
constitution is illegal. -- Jiri Pehe
KWASNIEWSKI PROMOTES REGIONAL COOPERATION IN BUDAPEST.
In a two-day
visit to Hungary, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that Poland,
Hungary, and the Czech Republic would form a close-knit group as they approach
EU and NATO membership, international and Hungarian media reported on 20
January. Those three countries "should hold regular consultations on
presidential, prime ministerial, and ministerial levels in the near future,"
Kwasniewski said. Hungarian President Arpad Goncz echoed Kwasniewski's views,
saying: "We are not competitors but strategic partners on the road leading
toward NATO and the European Union." -- Zsofia Szilagyi
HUNGARY UNDER FIRE FOR EXCESS AGRICULTURAL SUBSIDIES.
The United States,
Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand will file a joint complaint against
Hungary for oversubsidizing its agricultural exports, Reuters reported on 20
January. The four countries will formally request that the World Trade
Organization establish a panel at the next meeting of the organization's
dispute settlement body. They accuse Hungary of providing export subsidies in
excess of its Uruguay Round commitments and claim it plans to extend subsidies
from six products to more than 300 products, including grain, meat, dairy
products, fruit, and vegetables. Earlier, the Hungarian Ministry of Industry
and Trade had tried tÇeconvince the complaining nations that it was
using erroneous data when it agreed to reduce state subsidies. All five nations
are members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporter nations, formed in
1986. Hungary is the sole European member. -- Zsofia Szilagyi
BOSNIAN SERBS FIRE ON CROATIAN TOWN.
Bosnian Serbs in Bosanski Brod
fired automatic weapons across the Sava River into Slavonski Brod, Croatia,
late in the afternoon of 20 January, Hina reported. The bullets hit the main
street and shattered windows but caused no casualties. This is the first such
incident since the Dayton peace treaty was signed in December 1995, AFP wrote.
In Sarajevo, UN spokesman Kris Janowski criticized the Bosnian Serbs for
breaking a "gentleman's agreement" and using UN funds to repair houses whose
owners had been "ethnically cleansed" from the region, AFP added. -- Patrick
BOSNIAN OFFICIAL WANTS RUSSIAN TROOPS OUT.
The new governor of the Tuzla
area, Sead Jamakosmanovic, has called for Russian SFOR troops in the area to be
replaced. He accused them of complicity in a Serb attack on a bridge on the
sensitive Celic-Koraj route, where Muslim refugees are trying to return to
homes just inside Serbian lines (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January
1997). Jamakosmanovic repeated a frequent Muslim and Croat charge against the
Russians, saying "they are not neutral," Oslobodjenje reported on 21
January. He asked that U.S. forces replace the Russians, adding: "We have
confidence in the Americans." Scandinavian and Turkish troops are also
stationed in the tense area. -- Patrick Moore
WAR CRIMES UPDATE.
The Bosnian state commission dealing with the 200,000
missing persons -- mainly Muslims and Croats -- from the conflict said that 31
mass graves containing 1,462 bodies and 466 single graves were found and
exhumed last year. Forensic inspectors from abroad and from the region will
resume their work in the spring. In Zagreb, the Hague-based war crimes
tribunal's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, said that Croatia is not
cooperating with the court despite its promises to do so. She noted that
mechanisms for the extradition of indicted war criminals exist, but said that
has not led to concrete results, Onasa reported on 18 January. -- Patrick
SERBIAN POLICE ATTACK DEMONSTRATORS.
Police officers armed with clubs
attacked peaceful demonstrators in Belgrade on 20 January, reportedly injuring
at least 12 people. According to Radio B92, one person was seriously beaten.
The incident occurred when the well-armed police officers moved to disperse the
crowd of peaceful protesters from around the city center. Nasa Borba on
21 January reported that Patriarch Pavle had blessed the thousands of students
in Belgrade waging an "endurance test" against riot police. The latest student
action began on the evening of 19 January, when a cordon of police officers
prevented students from continuing their march along Belgrade's main streets.
The students, in reply, refused to budge from the police barricades. -- Stan
SERBIAN COURTS BACK THE REGIME.
Serbia's judicial system dealt two blows
to opposition demands on 20 January. First, a local Belgrade court asked the
Supreme Court to rule on a Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) appeal of an
electoral commission ruling recognizing opposition Zajedno wins in Belgrade.
Since the Supreme Court is under no time restriction to review the case, the
municipal court action may be merely the latest SPS ploy to stall for time.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court overturned a decision recognizing opposition
victory in the town of Sabac, instead ruling the SPS had won 35 seats to
Zajedno's 29 in that municipal assembly. Nasa Borba reported on 21
January that the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, led by accused war
criminal Vojislav Seselj, has filed its own court challenges to Zajedno
election wins. -- Stan Markotich
UN WANTS TO OPEN HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICE IN KOSOVO.
The UN's special
reporter for human rights, Elizabeth Rehn, said she had asked the Serbian
authorities to "think about" her request to open an office in Kosovo, in which
over 90% of the population is ethnic Albanian. She pointed to recent tensions
and assassinations there as a reason for establishing a UN presence now, AFP
reported on 20 January. Currently her staff based in Belgrade visit Kosovo once
per month. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had earlier banned other
international monitors from working out of Pristina. Meanwhile, in Munich, the
Bertellsmann foundation opened two days of talks aimed at bringing Serbs and
Kosovar Albanians together to explore solutions to their political deadlock. A
dozen delegates from the region are taking part in drafting an agenda for
possible official talks, and are joined by experts from Germany and other EU
countries, an OMRI correspondent reported. -- Patrick Moore
'SLOVENIAN SPRING' REJECTS PLAN TO FORM GOVERNMENT.
main conservative parties -- the People's Party, the rightist Social Democrats,
and the Christian Democrats -- have expressly rejected an offer by
Premier-designate Janez Drnovsek to form a working coalition government, STA
reported on 20 January. The three so-called "Slovenian Spring" conservative
parties allege that Drnovsek's proposal gives his own Liberal Democratic Party
too much influence and representation in government, Reuters added. The
"Slovenian Spring" parties hold 44 of 90 parliamentary seats and have demanded
that Drnovsek redraft his proposal for "a government of unity." -- Stan
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT DEFENDS MINERS' LEADER'S ARREST.
In an interview with
Radio Bucharest on 20 January, Emil Constantinescu defended the recent arrest
of Miron Cozma, the controversial leader of the Jiu Valley miners.
Constantinescu said the event was part of a campaign against corruption and
organized crime and was aimed at "restoring state authority." He described
Cozma, who led thousands of miners in violent marches on Bucharest in 1990 and
1991, as "the most flagrant case of a person acting in defiance of law and
state institutions." Meanwhile, Jiu Valley union leaders announced they were
looking for people to testify in Cozma's favor and warned against more rallies
in the area. They were joined by leaders of five associations of participants
in the December 1989 revolution. According to them, the arrest was "politically
motivated, and an act of revenge" on behalf of Petre Roman, Romania's prime
minister in 1990-1991. -- Dan Ionescu
BULGARIA'S FORMER COMMUNIST LEADER RELEASED.
Zhivkov was released from house arrest on 21 January, owing to advanced age,
national media and AFP reported. Zhivkov headed the Bulgarian Communist Party
for 35 years until he was dismissed by the party's reformers on 10 November
1989. Arrested in January 1990, he spent several months behind bars and has
since been under house arrest in his granddaughter's villa in a wealthy part of
Sofia. In 1992, Zhivkov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for
involvement in misappropriating public funds for the benefit of relatives and
friends. However, the Supreme Court acquitted him in February 1996 on the
grounds that as head of state he could be held responsible only for high
treason. Despite that, he remained under house arrest and still faces a
possible trial for misappropriating funds earmarked for pro-communist groups in
the Third World. -- Maria Koinova
PROTESTS CONTINUE IN BULGARIA.
Opposition demonstrations against the
Bulgarian Socialist Party's intentions to form a new government entered their
third week, national media reported. Stefan Raytchev, chairman of the Promyana
Trade Union's strike committee, told Pari his union would announce a
nationwide general strike on the day President Petar Stoyanov gives a mandate
to the Socialists to form a government. Promyana Co-Chairman Dimitar Dimanov
claimed the two other big trade unions are expected to join in the call.
Meanwhile, the strike committee at Bulgarian National TV gathered more than
1,000 signatures on 21 January to a petition demanding improved working
conditions, an end to censorship, and the resignation of acting
Director-General Ivan Tokadzhiev, his deputy, Paun Tsonev, and Chief Secretary
Tsveta Stefanova. -- Maria Koinova
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Tom Warner